Friday, 18 December 2009

Seasonal Greetings

Note to self:  Don't blow your nose on the tissue you've just used to blot your lipstick...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

End of perfect days

The rest of the day passed in a pampered blur.  One of the guests yesterday gave me a hugely generous gift card for a Day Spa on Madison Avenue which I spent on a facial with every conceivable treatment known to woman, and a few silly ones I'm sure they made up.  When I came out of the salon it was already dark and great big fat flakes of snow were falling lazily on to the street.  I felt like I was in my very on New York fantasy as I walked across Park Avenue and back to the house.

Within an hour we were leaving again to go downtown to dinner and a concert in Carnegie Hall where we had another box shared with two elderly ladies, one who had a cane and another who had two canes - both with three wheels which meant manoeuvring them between the gilt chairs took some effort, as well as a large, ominous dressing taped to the side of her face.

'Introduce yourself because I've forgotten her name.' whispered my friend after greeting both dowagers warmly.  I looked at the one cane lady and smiled. She smiled back.  What do I say? 'Hello I'm Marion McNobody and why the heck would you care?'  I was suddenly crippled with shyness but feeling the weight of my friend urging me to do my social duty, I opened my mouth obediently but nothing came out.  The old lady smiled at me again uncertainly and then turned her head tremulously like one of those nodding dogs on the back seat of a 1960s Ford Escort back to the stage onto which members of the orchestra that we had come to hear, were carrying their instruments.  I sighed with relief and began to clap with the rest of the audience as seconds later the orchestra launched, conductorless into Mozart's ballet music for Idomeneo, and I watched them sway to and fro like corks in a musical sea, my anonymity preserved.

At least until the interval by which time she was asleep.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What every woman wants...

Back home I found a box of flowers and a parcel.  The first contained a dozen red roses and the second, I noticed with surprise, came from Worcester. 

'Perhaps it's a jigsaw.' said one of my fellow Pedants at work when I mentioned that he'd called me to wish me a safe trip and said he was going to sent me something.

'Ha bloody ha,' I retorted, though knowing full well that it was unlikely to be a box from Tiffany's.  For those of you who are wondering about the significance of jigsaws in this sentence it's because I met him when we published Margaret Drabble's 'Pattern in the Carpet' about - yes - jigsaws, because, erm, yes - he makes them - as in manufactures them - as in runs a jigsaw factory.  I know, I know, you can keep the jokes, I've heard them all before, and even made a few...

As it turned out, however, my colleague was right.  The fabled gift was, indeed, a jigsaw.  However instead of the obligatory chocolate box picture the box bore a photograph of my own fair self. 

Ahhhhh.  Sweet.  Really sweet.  I was touched.

The implication only dawned on me later when I had another look at the photograph.  It was taken on a boat in Lake Como.  The last time I saw him.  The weekend we split up.  Now commemorated in a jigsaw.

Broken up into little pieces.

If that's not a metaphor then I don't know what is.

December 5th

It's not the way you usually spend a Saturday - going to a funeral in Long Island, and yet, nevertheless, to a funeral I am going.

In a stretch limousine.

There are four of us, and it's raining.   It's pelting water from the sky as though there's a prize for it.  I swap my pink coat for one of my friend's black cashmere shawls, while she's in a 1950's clinched waist suit from the wardrobe department of Mad Men (via Dior) with a sable collar than cradles her shoulder like a mother's arm.  The silver fox is in a dark suit and raincoat while another friend, also in black, whose silver hair is in a bob, wears a hat.  Together we pick our way through the puddles on the sidewalk ignoring the row of cabs behind us which honk at the limo for blocking the narrow cross street, and we drive off.

Deerhurst, Long Island is an hour and a half away, but the ride is like being rocked to sleep in one of those big cushioned prams in which old fashioned, uniformed nursery maids used to push their charges round the park.  I am falling asleep until our friend starts to tell us about the war of attrition in her apartment building between those who object to the Christmas tree and those who want a full creche complete with flashing star on the barn like it's a casino in Vegas.   One of the residents said to her one morning:  'There are wreaths hanging in the lobby.  Who put those goddamn things there? Jews don't like wreaths, they're offensive, who do we have to speak to in order to get the mother-fricking things gone!'  (Religious and profane...)

''Then the next day,' she goes on, 'I come in and there's a dime store menora on the charger.  I think to myself, oh-oh - this is going to be a problem, and sure enough, I'm riding in the elevator with Steve Abrams and he turns to me and says - "I'm a nice, ordinary Jew from from the Upper East Side who likes a Christmas tree - why the  hell do I have to have a menora in my face when I get home?"  So, I asked Arthur the doorman about it and he just shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn't tell me anything, but the next morning as I'm going out I see the dime store menora is gone and in its place is an antique silver one - so now we've got a Christmas tree, wreaths on the front door, evergreen bunting hanging from the awning and an heirloom menora the size of a side of beef - all we need is Santa on an elephant and we've got a parade.'

I can't believe anyone gets so worked up about a harmless Christmas tree and the religious implications of the wreaths escapes me.  We're, nominally at least, Muslims, and we have a tree with a battered, one eyed doll called Paul dressed in a pink tutu (he's very gay) at the top of it, hand of Fatima candles and a baby Jesus from Mexico on the mantelpiece.

'Yeah, well look I tried to tell them that actually the tree is a pagan symbol that really has nothing to do with Christianity but was just mopped up by them as a way of getting more members but I know that isn't going to carry any weight.  Especially when I discover that the fancy menora belongs to the Chairman of the Resident's Committee.  But in the end I said we should get rid of everything and just have some nice neutral flowers and make the place look classy.'

I ask her if she won.

'Nah - the menora vanished.  But we kept the tree.  The stupid thing is I'm the only Christian in the whole damn building and I don't believe in any of that crap.'

The story takes us deep into Long Island where through the vertical rain I see us drawing up outside a small red brick church with firmly closed doors festooned with - you've guessed it - wreaths.  There's a spire that looks more like a turret and blood red stained glass in the windows.  It's all very Gothic.  And deserted.  Apparently, we're the first people here.   We file into a pew half way up the echoingly empty church.  The pastor who is having trouble lighting the pink and lilac (yes really) candles sprints up to us and hands us the order of service with a hymn on a printed sheet.  The words 'don't believe any of that crap' ring in my ears as I look in vain through the hymnal for anything I recognise - and see with a heart that would have sunk if there had been anywhere further south than hell for it to go - that all the hymns seem to have been written after 1978.  The church is an evangelical, born again, happy clappy one and it soon transpires that everyone, apart from us, the bereaved whom we are here to support and - in fact - the deceased whose daughter belongs to the church - have been born again (probably a bit of a bummer since it's too late to remedy it now that he's been carried in by four short square Italian men with rain glistening on their shoulders like dandruff.

We sing the first hymn.  Nobody knows it except the pastor and one soprano with bad phrasing who happens to be standing behind me and hits the high notes right into my ear.   The pastor conducts from the pulpit with one hand that is alternately praising the lord and punching out the tempo - a flat palm pointing upwards for anything at the top end of the register.  That disposed off he begins on his sermon:

'All the prophecies are coming true and the signs are clear that Jesus will soon walk amongst us once again at the end of days.  We the righteous who walk with the Lord and who love the Lord and who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ his son as our saviour will soon be going home. We have nothing to fear, because Jesus is coming for us.  Jesus is coming for all of you!' He spreads his arms wide to include the congregation - about twelve of us, half of whom Jesus is just not going to tap on the shoulder any time soon.  He casts his eyes over us dubiously.  We are so obviously sinners it's a wonder the floor doesn't start leaking flames.

To round things off we sing 'I Cannot Tell' to the tune of Londonderry Air - aka Danny Boy.  I figure I'll give it a go - it seems the least I can do to join in with the spirit of things I don't believe in, but when I get to '...but this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture...' instead of 'but come ye back when spring is in the me-e-dow' and I give up.  I just can't do it.

It seems crazy that less than twelve hours ago I was watching a waiter in a bow tie come upstairs to the drawing room with the first plate of appetizers at my birthday party- tiny lobster rolls and chicken wraps cut into slivers.  A glass of champagne was placed in my hand.  The table was set with a row of vases full of white anenomes and my friend's son arrived with his girlfriend, quickly followed by another son with his girlfriend as the room filled up with other guests - some of whom I've known since conception, others since last New Year in Brazil.

Then the rest of the appetizers arrived in waves - tiny lamb sliders, duck rolls, tuna carpaccio with mango on flatbread, teeny won ton parcels, ricotta with truffle oil, I was dizzy with them, and speechless since every time someone asked me a question I had something in my mouth.  The main course was queen scallops and venison with diced saute potatoes, spinach salad and butternut squash.  More champagne.  Pinot Noir.  Two birthday cakes and darn it - candles - and everyone sang happy birthday whilst circling the cakes.  Except that they had to hold off as there was a speech to made which I got almost the way through before my friend started crying, and then so did I, and a few guests' tears were hastily wiped away (I think I have a gift for making people weep, but sadly I'm usually shouting at the time)... before finally they got to eat the cake.

My last memory was drinking Grand Marnier after everyone had gone.

Which was when someone carried up the presents.

I am jolted out of my avaricious reverie as Danny Boy comes to a resounding close on the badly played organ with 'the saviour of the world is King' to follow the coterie out of the church.  It's still raining outside and the sky is a coil of dark, boiling clouds, so low they seem to be sitting on the roofs.  I kiss my bereaved friend who rolls his eyes in wordless horror and make my way back to the car before I realise that I'm nearly climbing into the hearse which is, if anything, smaller than our stretch limousine parked in front of it.  My hostess puts up her umberella - it's black with scalloped ruffles.  Her husband turns up the collar on his coat which flaps behind him in the biting wind.  Our other friend puts on her dark glasses and her silver hair glows in the gloom of the day.  Her hat's at a jaunty angle.  I wrap my borrowed black cashmere wrap around my shoulders with a theatrical flourish and in a sombre uniformly black line we pick our way over the leaf sodden lawn  piercing foliage on the end of our heels until we are swallowed up into the creamy leather upholstery of the sleek black car whose door is held open by a man in a peaked cap.

Readers we are like something out of the Adamms Family.

We're creepy and we're kooky, mysterious and spooky...

And it's actually my birthday.  It's not the most conventional way to spend the anniversary of the day you were born, but I don't think Morticia could have come up with a better way to celebrate it...

Da da da da, click click.

In Style

Jamie meets me in Bendel's and we brave the crowds on Fifth Avenue where we try to find a coffee shop eventually settling for a place the size of a shoebox with a stools at a counter redolent with the smell of French toast and home fries.  The wait staff are Spanish and a man with a cold sore is on the cash register.  Funnily enough, neither of us are hungry.  We order iced tea (tepid brown water) and catch up.  She's moved back to the states with her son who is an internationally successful model and her husband - who commutes to Washington - and is in the process of buying an apartment in Chelsea so they can escape their home in rural Connecticut where she is slowly going crazy.

Just that last sentence makes me crazy.

Before she moved here she lived and worked in Hammersmith where her kids went to school and where her husband stayed home all day and cooked.  How do you cope with such an upheaval after twenty five years in England?  A house husband in Hammersmith one day to manless in Manhattan the next?  I wonder this aloud, as the squat waiter reaches over my head and takes a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs over to a well dressed man in a business suit who is reading the New York Times.  On the other side of me a guy in worker's overalls, boots and a hard hat is eating a BLT.  An old lady with lipstick over the edge of her lips is drinking coffee in one of the booths.

I'm having culture shock and I'm just a tourist.

Earlier I took my courage in both hands (no easy task when they are already full of shopping bags from Bloomingdales, Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma) and braved Abercrombie and Fitch where in my naiviety I thought I'd pick up a sweat shirt for one of my kids.  Inside it's darker enough for braille garment tags and loud music booms out at deafening volume so that you have to yell at the sales assistants who are difficult to find since the shop is simply packed with foreign visitors speaking in French and Italian and Russian.  It's Babel with plaid shirts.  I pick one up and look at the price.  Eighty dollars.  Eighty freaking dollars for a check shirt that looks preworn?  I put it down again and walk round in a trance until I find a t-shirt.  I approach a young God whose shirt is unbuttoned to his crotch, and then thinking better of it, find a female who at least seems to wearing underwear and ask her if she has this in another colour.  She tells me that they are all around the store.  I look into the heaving mass of bodies and see that indeed the store seems to be colour coded and that if I want to get it in blue and pink I have to walk round to each individual area and find it.  I drop it on the counter (in the orange section though it's blue) and head for the door.  I'll take mail order over male model order any day.  I am getting old.

Jamie has been to Barney's where twenty sales assistant leap on you and ask you how you are today before the door has even closed behind you.   I've had much the same treatment at Victoria's Secret where a girl accosted me on entering and said: 'Buying pandies today?' as I tried to find some for my daughter.  It is my ambition to go to my grave without anyone ever asking me this question in public ever, ever again.  Particularly since I don't think there are any in the ruddy store that fit me (ergo pitying look).  I find myself stammering no as I back out the door.  Daughter is not getting pandies for Christmas.  Or a t shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch.  I'm wondering how she feels about a set of non stick spatulas from Williams Sonoma.  It's quiet in there.  They give you Christmas tea...

In the diner, I duck again for the chicken pot pie and fries and the check is slapped down unceremoniously on the table - it might be time for Jamie and I to say goodbye.  She picks up the tab.  It's four dollars.  I want to frame it.  Four dollars is the tip I gave the cab driver on the way here.

'I love your hair..'  She says as I gather up my bags.

'Yeah, thanks.  It's the most expensive blow dry I have ever had in my life,' I say as I toss my glossy curls outside in the street, and now, I think it probably smells of grease.  We kiss goodbye and she goes off to meet her sisters to see a play.  Next up I have a manicure and a pedicure.  At seven thirty there are fifteen guests arriving at the house for the party.  This morning ten boxes of orchids, roses and anenomes were delivered and, as I speak, the florist is arranging them into elaborate displays.  And, though Natasha the cook has made two birthday cakes, apparently she isn't cooking for the party and instead a team of caterers will be there at half past six.

As I said, I'm only a tourist.  But what a way to travel.

Agnes b list

The Met.

A gala dinner for Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann.

My friend, whose name is on the program, is wearing a floor-length, gold Christian Lacroix coat with a matching gown and a great many diamonds.  I'm in the same Agnes b dress I wear every time she takes me somewhere glitzy - from the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race Ball to the Opening of the V&A Couture Exhibition where she was photographed on the red carpet.  My seat at the table for dinner cost more than my entire outfit - hell, hiring the car that drove us through Central Park cost more than my entire outfit since the dress is ten years old and the velvet coat I'm wearing over it is vintage (ie second hand) from a shop on Goldborne Road, as is the grey taffeta jacket which came from the same place.  Actually, to be absolutely accurate - even the blow dry I had in a salon downtown earlier in the afternoon cost more than my outfit.  I think I paid about the same for the root canal I had done the last time I went to the dentist - but it hurt a lot less.  My hair is so bouncy it's like there's elastic in the conditioner.

I try not to feel like one of the ugly sisters which is relatively easy since I've borrowed from the safe and huge chandelier earrings dangle from my ears crusted with diamonds and semi precious stones while on my right wrist there's a five inch cuff made of quartzes and tourmalines the size of a giant's cough sweets.  I'm like Wonder Woman, but with bling.  You can kiss my big fat amethysts....  And though I'm not going to win any beauty contests, I'm at least able to walk unaided and my skin - while lined - hasn't been tacked behind my ears into a death's head mask.  Despite the glamorous occasion and the copious number of furs,  approximately fifty percent of the audience seem to be bordering on geriatric - so much so that if you forgot that you were in the Met you might easily imagine you were in a very well appointed nursing home where all the inmates were insanely rich.  If you were ever in any doubt that it was possible to live too long, a gala evening at the Metropolitan Opera would clear that right up for you.  Women (and yes, sadly it is mostly women because the men have done the sensible thing and died earlier) with walkers, with carers, with wheelchairs, mechanical and electric.  Women with crutches and walking sticks, and brittle bones, and terribly bad plastic surgery so that they all look like they have some odd leonine genetic disease, with wizened elbows and withered arms and shriveled decolletages, but very plump lips, startled eyes and breasts like snowglobes, except they don't shake.  Most are tiny little candy canes, bent out of shape by age and osteoporosis, glittering with baubles and swathed in ostentatious furs, but with dresses that went out of fashion before I was born and shrouded with the dusty patina of age.  The women look like they too have been stored in a plastic garment bag for the last twenty years.

After we've eaten tepid butternut squash soup and a veal medallion, we glide across the dress circle - named after one of the benefactors who is sitting at another table, towards our seats.  We settle ourselves in our box - my friend and her husband the silver fox, two handsome uncles, my friend's son in law who has been dragged along as my companion, and a young attractive couple who are colleagues of the host.  The women get to sit in the front row to show off their frocks, or in my case, my borrowed jewelry, and the curtain goes up.  The music is absolutely beautiful though I'm less convinced by the women stomping across the stage in pasties and high cut knickers with their buttock cheeks hanging out (I don't think the men are complaining because you know - those girls are singers, and there's as much bounce on stage as there is in my blow dry). 

The basic plot seems to be that Hoffmann (Joseph Calleja) is remembering his past loves - Olympia, a wind up doll (Kathleen Kim), the sickly Antonia (Anna Netrebko) and a courtesan Giulietta (Ekaterina Gubanova) - all facets of womanhood pretty much represented there then, wouldn't you say? - before deciding that they are all really different parts of the same woman - his current love - Stella (Anna Netrebko again).

The man has a point, I think as I zone in and out of the performance like a badly tuned radio station, swapping sleep for static every now and again (I was jet lagged).  Haven't I really been dating the same sort of person for the last year or so as the one I was married to for twenty five years - first with an Italian accent, then with an English one?  From uberhusband to husband lite, I've pretty much sought out the same sort of type time and time again - it's Freud's urge to repeat.  I just do it less musically.

I struggle through the second act after a glass of champagne and a dessert for which we withdraw, once again, to the little gilt chairs on the dress circle surrounded by the creme of the decrepit while tiers of people stand leaning over the balconies above us, watching us like we were in a zoo.  Note to self - sugar and alcohol are not friends of the somnolent.  I pinch myself.  I kick myself.  I hold my eyes open while pretending a rapture I can only summon up for the idea of curling up in bed. I count white hair.  I count members of the cast. I count people sleeping and then my chin slips.  Only afterwards do I discover that sitting in the box next to the arm that's propping up my head is the General Manager and his party.  I sincerely hope none of them see me nodding off.

By the third act, however, I am suddenly wide awake again.  A state which I manage to prolong until three am (eight am Pedantic time, when usually I’m just getting into work).  Tomorrow night it’s my birthday party.  Somehow, I don’t think I’m exactly going to sparkle…  There’s just not enough bling in the safe.  Pass me my zimmer frame.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

My night as a rock chic(ken)

I went to Jools Holland last week with two of my colleagues and one of our authors - none other than the font of all knowledge Vic, Jim Moir, Reeves who was promoting his book.

Oh yes.

Karen and I were there - possibly the only women over forty in the whole room, apart from Annie Lennox, who was singing while we just stood there and did that sort of 'mum at a wedding' dancing that embarrassed even me to such a degree that I refused to watch myself on the television despite being assured that I was seen by no less than two of my closest acquaintances who don't ruddy bother to call me up when I'm not making a fool of myself but still feel moved to get in touch when I'm being a complete ass.

'Aye,' said Big Alan in the office, 'Ah saw you and Karen there, standing behind Jim.'

I winced and waited for the next sentence.

'Aye...'  He nodded.

I think that his tactful silence is a sign that nothing more need be said about it.  Until perhaps the Christmas party.

Actually we weren't quite the oldest swingers in town (and I should confess here that Karen, though probably a decade younger than I, for the purposes of making me feel less ancient, is being grouped in my approximate age range) as one of the bands - a snarling, angry group of black eye-lined, leather-clad boys with serious sleeping-in-a-skip hair and lots of attitude who made the sort of noise that has you saying things like 'but it doesnae have a tune' while they jumped up and down and humped their guitars like they were young ponies they were trying to wrestle to the ground - also brought their mums and dads.  It was hilarious.  One of the mums was wearing lurex and the dad was in a suit - it was more like a Latymer Upper School parents' evening than a gig (says she in the blue polka dot dress with extra cleavage).  And as the band screamed unmelodically and the keyboard player turned his instrument upside down and banged it (without affecting the sound), mum and dad were standing on their tip toes and waving those little peek-a-bo waves, blowing the equivalent of fond parental kisses and saying: "...coo-ee, Justin!  Timothy!".

And after they stopped playing the band waved back.


Non-specific paranoia

'You look dreadful!' Said Fran as I rolled, stumbled, reeled into the office a tad later than usual, the morning after the night before.

'Which one was it this time?'

I just shook my head. Very carefully. It hurt.

I hadn't had a lot to drink but nevertheless when you meet for a glass of wine after work and then decide to have another because you are getting on so well, and then go off to dinner where there's more wine, and - just to prolong it - a tiny glass of something else afterwards... erm, well let me rephrase that. I had actually had quite a lot to drink. And I didn't eat a thing until probably somewhere around glass four. It's no wonder I like this one so much - not only did he bring me a little box of designer chocolates but he is imbued with a lovely rosy red wine glow. However, I think perhaps we do need to try a date where we actually stay sober just to be sure we know who we are 'seeing' as in - will recognise each other again in broad daylight - and no doubt be mightily relieved that, indeed, there is only one of us and we haven't been dating twins. Saturday is the big day. As in all day. He's coming round in the morning and being inducted into the secret life of Marion which involves the purchase of totally useless junk from some stall at the sordid end of Portobello Road which has so far furnished Castle Suburbia with: a set of oyster dishes (I have never once eaten oysters at home) three assorted tureens for all those vegetables that I don't cook for the Sunday lunches I don't make (but which would look fantastic laid out on the several serving dishes I have also purchased) , two or three tiered cake plates for the cakes that I don't bake (or at least, when I do, they don't exist long enough to merit display) and a sauce boat shaped like a bunch of asparagus. Nothing cost more than a tenner. You can keep your Manolo's - as well as being a really cheap drunk, I'm also a really cheap date - give me a ceramic toast rack with a chip on it and I'm delirious. And I never eat toast.

So we'll wander down Portobello. Stop at the next station of the cross which is Eggs Benedict at Uncle's Cafe where they know me so well now they don't even bother to ask for my order but just bring it with extra Hollandaise (I'm echoing Julia Child that "with enough butter anything is good"). And eventually, end up at the Gate Cinema for the latest Cohen Brothers' film. And if that doesn't scare him off, there's dinner later at the dodgy but brilliant Thai on our local council estate. Classy or what? I know how to show a man a good time.

It's slightly nerve-wracking. Okay, no, it's terrifying. But it's not the new man who scares me, it's all the women who've gone before me that I find daunting.

As my friend George pointed out over supper a few weeks ago - you're not just sleeping with the person who happens to be in your bed at the time, but with every single one of their previous partners. And this, naturally enough, does not just apply to their sexual health which is worrying enough, but also to the size of their thighs, quality of their underwear, dress size, exercise habits, body shape, diet and clothing... In short, their details - and - more significantly - yours, live on in subsequent relationships. I hate the idea of the last man discussing my character, or lack of it, with my successor in the way that one does tend to 'fess up about previous relationships and what went wrong with them, especially when she's only getting one side of the story. I don't like the the thought that some other women out there might know intimate details of my life from the lips of an unreliable source without me even knowing she exists. And if she reads this blog she'll be none the wiser because, readers, I LIE. Of course I do. I couldn't have a social life if I wrote the truth, would have no friends left, would never get anyone to go out with me, and you would pity me for the depths to which I'm willing to sink in pursuit of love. I mean - the West freaking Midlands, FFS?

I don't use real names, I exaggerate and sometimes I really, really don't. But former lovers? Do you think they dress it up in prose. Do you think they're self deprecating when they suck their teeth and tell the next one what was wrong with the last one? Viruses aren't the only thing that spread. So, similarly, with new man, the outline has been filled in. I don't know if his last woman went to Marks and Spencers for her tights or if they were hand woven from blind children in Nepal but I do know she had the same watch as me - but hers had diamonds. I know her name. What she does for a living. I know she was slim and gorgeous. And that she had a room for her shoes.

Shall I repeat that?

A. Room. For. Her. Shoes.

So I'm guessing she didn't have an orange crate wardrobe from Homebase at the end of her bed, then. Nor am I seeing her in Bridget Jones big pants.

I also know she never went to the gym, could eat what she wanted and was still skinny, never had children and was ten years younger than me.

Readers - there is not enough butter in the world, and all I have I'm wearing around my hips. I'm wondering if I should pull the bag over his head or mine. (Smear the butter on his specs perhaps..?)

Still the fear of confession and comparison is a STD that affects both men and woman.

I hope.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Proving that female of the species are just as deadly as the male

Apparently the thing that women do is expect to move in after the third date...  I have this on good authority from three of the sane men I've met.  In our minds it goes - coffee, lunch, dinner, bed, weekend, joint answerphone messages and a his and her Christmas card...  Though sometimes the coffee, lunch, dinner is elided.  No wonder they're all cagey about telling you their real names or where they work (for intelligent people they obviously don't know much about the internet, or women's ability to use it to track down personal information).  They're terrified you are going to turn up with your suit cases and scatter cushions. My most recent date who claimed to be fifty nine but looked seventy (an old seventy) if he was a day, and seemed a tad shabbily dressed for the chauffeur driven car that idled outside the hotel bar ready to whisk him away after our drink, told me that his previous girlfriend used to pray while they were making love.  Looking at him shuffling across the floor it's not hard to see why.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

It's a zoo

I'm in New York next week where it will be raining men for my birthday.  Unfortunately they will all be sheltering under an awning to protect their Gucci loafers as they are already partnered up with each other - but at least I shall be a gay icon at my own birthday party.  There are worse things.

After some spirited socialising I'm suffering from dating fatigue.  I'm so looking forward to getting away from it all.  Apart from seeing the relocated Ambassador in Manhattan (I'm dumb with excitement at the thought of it - which is, as you know, a rarity), I am going to a gala evening at the opera, Carnegie hall, having a party thrown for me and generally being wined and dined every single evening.  I can't wait.

Meanwhile it's been convenient that three of the men I've met up with recently have been called David as it saves me having to remember their names, though it is tricky knowing which one is which, especially when I got a message from one asking me to call him back as soon as possible and I didn't recognise the number.  Unfortunately this David was the guy who is coming to fix the flashing on my roof and so he was a bit surprised to be called darling... (it saves me getting them mixed up).

However, my month's dating course is almost up.  What a relief.  I can't stand the highs and the lows. It's an emotional wringer.  It has gone from the giddy excitement of looking forward to champagne at Claridges and dinner afterwards in one of those swanky business restaurants that I used to eat in all the time as the only woman not in a dark suit, and sometimes, the only woman - to the disappointment of realising that the classiest thing about the date is the postcode.  I'm a sucker for a bit of flattery and after months of feeling very under-appreciated by His Royal Worcester it has been wonderful to be complimented and invited out to lovely places where I never once see the bill.  Apart from the flowers I was even sent a gift in the post one morning.  It has been sweet to have some easy affection instead of having it wrung out at the end of a telephone conversation disguised as a cough.   I had a crisis of confidence after we stopped seeing each other and started this dating diet and so I asked my ex husband, somewhat doubtfully, if he thought I was still fanciable.  Yes, he replied, with alacrity (because the man has to be nice to me otherwise I don't let him come round and mow the lawn and replace all the lightbulbs in the house he is still paying for) of course you are.  I know, it's hardly the sexual seal of approval when you have to ask the man who left you for reassurance that some hapless twit out there in the big world of testosterone and "really enjoy staying in with a DVD" (good God, I can do that single, I don't need a man to be bored out of my skull on a Saturday night, thank you very much) will maybe ask you out, remember your birthday and write 'sweetheart' in the card.  It's the sort of  'well-I-don't-want-you-but-somebody-else-will premise that clearance sales work on.

It has been thrilling and fun, but it has also been uncomfortable and, at times, depressing - even, like the last post, really frightening.  The sad stories I have struggled not to bang my head on the table and cry upon hearing, and so many tales of marriage breakdown that dating starts to feel like Groundhog Day - especially when they are all called David.  Even my own story starts to sound like a script.  I've been desired, delighted and then dismissed and still had to drink the coffee. and felt like the relationship equivalent of cat nip for anyone on the autistic spectrum.  There are a lot of men out there sitting at home playing the one arm banjo. Those are my shoppers...

But thankfully there are the nice ones.  And the particularly nice one who I plan to see a lot more of.

Mind you after a martini every one seems nice.  Even me.

One Martini is bliss, two makes Chimps look handsome and three means you can have your appendix out without anaesthesia.   One particular two-Martini man told me I looked younger and 'far more beautiful' than I did in my picture (proving my own point).  If it hadn't been for the fact that he got out a toothpick to excavate the remains of his halibut while he was trying to flirt with me, I would have fallen head over heels in love with him.

Call me Cheeta.
The night after my dinner at Claridges, I had twelve people coming for dinner.  It had been the perfect date.  The sort you dream about.  A real life person who knows people I know, and who has even met my ex husband on a professional level.  But it all felt like it happened to another person now.

Funny how life can change in an instant.  Fear prickled up the back of my neck as the door slammed. The chocolate cake was cooling on the kitchen table - the second one - the first time, I was so discombobulated that I added twice the quantity of sugar and had to throw it away.  The patatas haras had just the right touch of har and the muhammara contained the exact amount of absolutely no ham but was as red as its name promised.  Howevertthe tomato tart had turned as soggy as I had, while the aubergines and I had both grown cold.  I wanted to ring everyone up and say 'don't come'.  But the table was set, the wine was opened, the paella was cooking, very unevenly, on the stove and the doorbell was already ringing.

The show went on.

But let me tell you.  Sometimes my acting skills impress me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Except tall, silver haired man in the evening who turns out to be unexpectedly nice, musical, interesting and who has asked to see me again.  And again.

Friday 13th

Another lovely package...

First proofs of my American book.  Nothing can top this.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Okay, I take back everything I said about nice men. Nice men send you flowers. To the office. In a long box. Orchids. Two bunches. And I don't even remember telling him that they were my favourite.

I thought for one trembling fingered minute they were from His Royal Stinginess but that only proves how mistakenly optimistic it is possible to be.

Atlantic wins award for most beautiful


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

White flag

Thai food. Man of Mediterranean appearance. Delightful.

I get up to leave and glance at the man who I've been watching out of the corner of my eye all night who is none of the above but short, bald, twinkly-eyed, smooth and, as I finally see his face, Brian Eno.

That's it.

Date over.

I give up.

I'm taking up tapestry or bee-keeping or something, going on a diet, becoming a recluse. I surrender.

Rare First Editions

Lunch. Another restaurant. Japanese this time. (I'm eating and dating around the ethnic spectrum.) A banker. Another very nice man. A lovely, gentle, very, very nice man with a soft voice that I have to strain to hear, who asks me all about myself, pays the bill and asks me out again - tomorrow, the next day, Saturday, Sunday, one day next week.

Damn it.

Where do they all come from these lovely, keen, very nice men, apart from The Guardian? I realise I don't know what to do with them. They are wasted on me. I'm unused to handling them. As the Frenchman asked of my books, 'what are they for'?

It's incredibly good for the squashed ego to see someone smile at you across the table with interest and appreciation, but rather than preening like a well-fed tabby and asking to be stroked some more, I can't resist the urge to look behind me to see who they are really looking at. I miss Worcester.  I  have come to realise that I quite like chilly, cold men because there is no chance of getting overwhelmed by the heat no matter how much you try to warm them up. And you can complain about them with impunity rather that feeling resolutely not nice by comparison.

Just as all the lovely men turn up, so in touch with their feelings that they've got them electronically tagged to their ankle, I realise I'm a shallow, commitment-phobe who would prefer that they merely sent them the odd Christmas card. How did that happen? It's not that I'm not a touchy-feely, even gushy, person myself when the fancy takes me, but at the moment I would rather be a fickle, teenage boy who has taken mature, female form.

Nice men are like beautiful hand tooled, fine leather bound classics - too good to do much with except admire and store safely out of harm's way. If you do pick them up and flick carelessly through their pages, you know you're only going to sully them and ruin their value. For now, I prefer the big thick large-format paperback type of man that tells a good story, but may have big flaws in its plot and execution, with occasionally brilliant prose but is not soooo well written that you feel diminished by it, and which can be thrown out or passed on when you're finished with it.

You know where you are with a bastard and I don't want to stray too far out of my comfort zone. All these awfully nice men just make me feel bad, really bad. But not in away that's any fun.

Monday, 9 November 2009


The date, however, was very nice.  Tall, handsome, interesting, beautiful hands, Jewish, paid for supper, drove me home.  A success, I'd say.  Had it not been for the fact that when I walked into Galicia, swollen as usual with professionally sour waiters, old square Spanish men with prune faces and lithping accents, I found my friend Nel and her husband Tom propping up the bar who insisted on coming and saying a loud jocular hello, looking over the poor chap as though they were my parents, and grinning widely.

It wasn't quite as bad as when I turned up at the hotel where Worcester and I had arranged to meet and forgot his surname as I tried to check into the room, but when the time came to make the introductions my mind went blank  and I called him Gordon.

Sadly his name is Geoffrey.

Graceless Host

On Friday, the Frenchman came round for supper. He's someone I've known since my FT days and who, over the years, has become a fri-quaintance. He owns a couple of restaurants but since his wife and he split up he has been complaining that he rarely gets a home cooked meal.

Suzy sodding Homemaker. I walked right into it.

As did he, falling, drenched through the door with his entrance fee – a bottle of red wine which I’d requested. After several texts confirming (you know in case he had a better offer in the meantime) he had called me earlier in the day asking what he should bring. I hate it when blokes do that... You know the form, and you shouldn't need to be told.

If a woman asks you what she should bring she means do you need a salad, some bread, a pudding or cheese, as well as some plonk. When a man asks you, it means I’m too tight and/or can’t be bothered to buy a bottle of wine and so I’m hoping you will waive it and say, oh just bring your lovely self because you’re such scintillating company that it’s a positive honour to slave over the stove all day to serve you without even a token of thanks or appreciation.

I should have asked for a large bunch of flowers.

But Frenchman has never been known for his generosity. Since I stopped writing about restaurants I haven't once been invited to either of his places for dinner - though the fact that he runs the business with his wife might have just have had something to do with that. Moving swiftly on... Except, as the evening progressed, I realised I hadn't moved on at all. I was entertaining Worcester II – the sequel, but wiv a Franch accent.

'Do you think books do anything for a room?' He asked, doubtfully, as he scanned the shelves, the many shelves of books in my sitting room. 'I'm not convinced. I don't see the point of them. I'm not sure why people have them. Why do you have them?'

I explained that most of them belonged to my ex husband, which makes it a valid, if rude, question. He then began to pace, rubbing his hands anxiously, and asked what and when we were eating. He was 'starving', he announced.

I stuck the broccoli in a pan and turned the grill on.

'Don't worry about the broccoli. I don't do green,' He said. Mentally, I put away the salad as I turned off the gas.

‘Oh, I like zis,’ he said, sounding surprised as he toyed with his chicken and chorizo stew which I served with celeriac and mustard mash, the intimation being that he hadn’t thought much of the first course – Serrano ham with baked figs and goats cheese. Something I’d guessed by the fact that he left all the figs… Seventy pence each, not that I’m counting. At least Worcester was always impressed and delighted with whatever I cooked for him. I found myself thinking of his enthusiasm with nostalgia as I watched Frenchman pick chunks of chorizo out of the casserole and tear his bread (Poilane - £6.50) up into shards and not eat it. So much for his supposed hunger. He then asked a long detailed question about the pot I had cooked it in - always a sign of culinary enjoyment. I think not being presented with a menu had somewhat perplexed him. Perhaps owning restaurants doesn’t prepare you for eating what you’re given and imagining that, even as a guest in someone else’s home, you should have a choice of how the food is presented.

‘I would have preferred to eat in the kitchen,’ he told me, as I cleared up.

Well fricking fa la la, I thought – you would would you? I’m sorry your majesty, the maitre d' should have asked you where you wanted to sit at the time of booking.

I didn’t offer him the cheese (Jeraboam's) , pudding (chocolate and coconut tart) or coffee but still had to listen to him drone on about going to some chap’s country pile for the weekend as though he was a household name that I should recognise, though I didn’t, and telling me about the D list celebrities he was going to be with. He dropped their names twice when they didn't make enough impact the first time.

I barely stifled my yawns and eventually he left.

That was the best part of the evening.

I was in bed with Hung by 10.15. Watching, not paying.
Publish Post

Back on the horse, so to speak...

The thing I had forgotten about dating is that you have to eat a lot of meals with men you fancy even less than the food.  I hate having to push two lettuce leaves and walnut round the plate when I have had to pass on the fat chips with mayonnaise because I’ve had a restaurant lunch and I’m trying to make a good – ie non-fat - impression.  Eating two big meals in a day when I usually barely have one is punitive. 

Still it beats the slow weekends in Worcester when the most exciting thing we did was reverse out of Sainsbury’s car park.  How nice it is to be asked: ‘Please may I buy you dinner - chose your favourite place and I’ll come and pick you up’ after five months of regular schlepping to the West Midlands, cruising the reduced shelves at Lidl and never once setting foot in a restaurant.  Not that I didn’t collude in the kitchen-centric nature of the relationship but after our last night out in London – to the Real Greek followed by the Globe theatre where I dutifully counted out my share of the dinner, as well as the price of my ticket – I did start to feel like the ultimate cheap date.  And yes, I do still owe him for the airfare to Bergamo (if you are reading this feel free to send me a bill) but it was only six quid.

‘Aint he treating you?’ asked my Cockney cleaning woman when she brought the ironing round just before I left.

‘No. We’re sharing everything.  It’s only a couple of pounds on Ryan Air and the hotel is quite reasonable.’

‘I fought he’d be inviting you - specially if it’s cheap. So where are you going from?  Stanstead?’


‘Bristol!  All that way? Isn’t it to dear to get there on the train?‘

‘About forty quid.  But then it costs me that every time I go to Worcester.’

‘Dun’t he take you out and make a bit of a fuss what with you trailing up there?’

‘No, not really. I usually cook.’

‘But he took you to the feater the other week, that was nice.’

‘No, actually, I took myself.  He was originally going with his friends.  I got a ticket when one of them dropped out.’

‘You wanna get shot of him sharpish,’ she said, sternly. ‘It’s like you’re paying for his ruddy company, gal.’

And oh God, I realised as the picture that had been developing slowly in front of my eyes as I spoke came sharply into full Kodak colour focus: she was absolutely right.  I didn’t have boyfriend, I had a gigolo.

By this point I was flatter than my freshly ironed pillow cases.  Who needs a mother when you have a 68 year old cleaner to point out a few home truths?  I bet Nigella didn’t swan around in her negligee licking chocolate off a spoon on a six pounds mini break with Charles Saatchi. 

Nevertheless, with the demise of Worcester’s answer to Richard Gere, I fear I may have been a little too enthusiastic catching up with opportunities passed over in the past months.  Life has been very calorific.

Reasons to be cheerful

I saw Roger, my Microbiologist friend on Tuesday – not a person you want to have dinner with if you need cheering up and are newly single.

Evening begins thus: Large bound menu in Italian restaurant in Fitzrovia placed in front of me by Polish girl. I open it as I fill Roger in on the fated weekend in Italy, and I read longingly: Risotto con funghi, Spaghetti carbonara, Linguini con aragusta, polenta con gorgonzola e porcini… cotoletta alla milanaise con zucchine fritte… In Bergamo I had tagliatelli with white truffles – though only half a portion as Worcester insisted he couldn’t eat a whole one so I had to share his. I’ve eaten whole truffle menus in my past life, with matched wines. Sigh. And now I’m eating someone else’s leftovers. I can manage the full plate, believe me. My eyes are torn from pleasing my stomach and redirected to my hips as I reluctantly turn my fat wobbly cheeks on everything I really want and chose breseola and grilled fish.

‘Bresaola? Do you have any idea what the bacterial load on that could be…?’ Asks the biochemist.

Salata tricolore, then. I brace myself for some teeth sucking over cheese cultures in the mozzarella but it passes the lab test.

Damn it.

I nibble on a breadstick and tell him I’m going out on a date at the end of the week.

‘Aye, well did you know that the reported cases of venereal diseases are going through the roof? We’re the highest in Europe.’

I put down the breadstick.

‘Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, Herpes… Even Syphilis is making a big comeback. It’s the post Aids generation – and that’s on a huge increase as well. It’s out of control.’

I am not sure he’s telling me this but I feel like I’m back at school getting the sex-education talk from my teacher.

‘It’s only a date not the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was planning on having a couple of drinks, not an orgy.'

'Well you don't just have a relationship with the person you're sleeping with, you're sleeping with everyone they're sleeping with - they're whole sexual history.'
Publish Post

'I don't have a sexual history, or even a sexual present. I'm not sleeping, or staying awake, with anyone...'

'Just as well.'

Yes dad. 'How come you know so much about it, anyway?'

‘I used to teach STDs at Warwick as an introduction to the ways opportunistic bacteria transmit information and talk to each other because ... (I’d love to continue this sentence but mercifully I have absolutely no idea what his science-speak means, other than that it involves germs.) ‘Aye it was a great way to get their attention – slapping a picture of a syphilitic…’

‘Roger, I thought the main point of tonight was to have dinner. If you actually want me to eat something, you might want to stop about now…’

‘People our age are in the worst demographic by the way.’

‘I’m not doing anything or anyone, for goodness sake. Not likely to either. My weekends are spent watching celebrities in sparkly frocks doing the Cha Cha Cha. It’s hardly high risk sexual behaviour.’

I reached for my wine glass.

‘And another thing. Did you know that in ten years they expect deaths by liver disease to overtake that of heart disease. Can you imagine that? Heart disease is essentially a disease of old age, where as liver disease is really only related to alcohol abuse. There are people as young as 28 dying of cirrhosis.’

I took a tentative sip and set my glass back on the table. So, no sex, no alcohol, no animal fats, no carbs and cured ruddy meat – what else is left?

‘Any news on Christine’s man?’ He asks, before adding: ‘From what I hear he’s going to be taking the drug protocol that my colleague Jimmy developed in his lab the states. With that sort of Leukaemia, the secondary treatment is usually…’

Oh joy - how could I forget? Cancer!

Sod it.

I take a long swallow from my glass, dip a hunk of bread into a bowl of olive oil and change my order to ravioli with butter and sage, then I look around the room for someone who wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.

Unfortunately, there is only Roger.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

My education

At The Gate in Notting Hill watching An Education based on Lyn Barber’s memoirs with a dawning, dismaying sense of recognition as the story unfolds.  The main character, Jenny, was a clever sixteen year old being stifled by her hothouse education and her middle class semi-detached suburban life in Twickenham.  I was a drifting sixteen year old at a tough comprehensive in a working class mining village where university was seen as less desirable than the local Chunkie Chicks or Levi’s factory.

Her David was dazzling and Jewish and drove a Bristol.  My David was nineteen and came on the bus on an hour long serpentine, sick-making journey through country lanes and desolate villages from a town twenty-five miles away.

She met her David in the rain, holding a cello.  I thought a cello was a big fiddle and I would have spelt it with a ch.  I met my David at a dance and at the end of the evening I gave him my address.  Three days later a letter arrived. I was beside myself with excitement.  It seemed so romantic that he would take the trouble to keep my hastily scribbled note (which was probably on the back of a cigarette packet) and actually bother to get in touch again.  With me.  That, in my life, was dazzling.  And I’ve always been a sucker for a man who writes letters.

He was my first lover, my first proper boyfriend and though, unlike Jenny, there were no Ravel concerts, and no trips to Paris in our courtship, there were films and restaurants in Edinburgh and trips in his friend’s modest car to the seaside and drinks in hotel bars that I wasn’t legally allowed to be in.  Even in the depressed backwater of a Scottish mining village, nineteen seemed so much more glamorous and sophisticated than sixteen.  It was practically adult.  He was working.  He had money to throw around.  I was still at school saving my lunch money for cigarettes.

I had never had a proper boyfriend before.  I was plain, tall, skinny and didn’t have the stamp of popularity.  But David loved me.  It was real.  This was grown up.  It was also, finally, was official when my parents invited him to stay for the weekend.

I was getting his bedroom ready.  The phone rang.  It was in the draughty hall at the back of the house, next to the spare room where I was struggling with the eiderdown. I heard my mother assume her Thora Hird with a Scottish accent telephone voice.  Yes, I see, she said formally. It sounded serious.  Her words were clipped.  Angry.  My ears strained to hear what she was talking about but the walls were thick and I could only sense that whatever was going on, it wasn’t good.  She hung up and came into the bedroom.  I looked up at her.  Never warmer than a wet weekend at Saltcoats, my mother’s face was now thunderous.  What’s the matter, I asked, fearfully.  You know fine what the matter is, she told me, spitting the words out. I must have looked blank, because I really didn’t have a clue, but she poked me in the chest with her ash-tapping finger and told me I’d better sit down.  Dutifully I did as I was told, ruffling the surface of the newly made bed that I’d just spent many minutes perfecting.

That was your boyfriend’s mother, she said, pronouncing the word boyfriend with a contempt that swelled to include me.  It seems he has a wife and child at home that he’s leaving to come here this weekend.  She thought I should know that my daughter was a home-wrecker.

I gaped.  I couldn’t really understand what she was saying. A wife?  A child.  At nineteen?  Though it shouldn’t have been so difficult to grasp. Pregnancy was the pastime of choice where I grew up.  There was nothing else to do until you were eighteen and could get into the pubs, except have sex, and teenage mothers and shotgun weddings were so common as to be normal.  In fact, if you were a Catholic wanting to marry a Protestant, they were obligatory.

Are you sure you didn’t know? she poked me roughly again, but this time her ash-tapping finger had an Embassy Regal slotted in behind it.  I dodged the tip.

She made me feel like a slut, and in two seconds – poof - my love affair disappeared in a tawdry puff of smoke and went from being something precious and romantic to a stain that defiled me.  I was despatched to  meet him from the bus and tell him to turn around and go home, back to the wife that he had, I later discovered, actually left weeks before he met me.  I was ordered never to see him again.

I didn’t even look him in the eye when I told him.  I just remember the cheap suitcase that got out of the bus before he did.  And then I walked away.  Feeling just as cheap.

At home, we never spoke of it again. But for weeks my parents looked at me as though I was untouchable.

I couldn’t stand it.  I told them that I wanted to leave the job that I had just recently started in a nearby town that they were both delighted with – a 'job for life' they told me, that felt like I was training to be dead.  I said I had decided to go and live with my aunt in England and, reluctantly, they agreed.

I was seventeen when they took me and my grandfather’s steamer trunk to Waverly Station in Edinburgh and waved me off on the platform.

In the film Jenny, and presumably Lyn Barbour on whom the story was based, was seventeen when she discovered the older man to whom she was engaged was already married with a child and lived a few streets away from her in Twickenham.  After the big reveal she sat her A levels and went to Oxford.

I got there a year earlier.  And David with me. I found him waiting for me on the train, as we had arranged. After the phone call, he didn’t go back to his family, but stayed on with his mother.  We began to meet each other secretly about a month after my parents told me I couldn’t ever see him again. And then we ran...

It was not my finest hour.

I moved in with my aunt and found a dreary job fastening papers together with pins in a mail room.  He got a room in a boarding house and found work.  It was a couple of weeks before I plucked up the courage to confess that David had come with me and neither the news nor the deceit was well received.  She too was disgusted with my sordid life and my married boyfriend so that when he told me he missed his little boy, I encouraged him to go back home.  I was tired of feeling dirty.  I was relieved to see him go.

And then the letters started. One every three days. Each time another landed on the mat my aunt would fume and snap that I should get rid of him and tell him to leave me alone, but I couldn’t.  I was torn. I did, however stop writing.  Still the letters arrived.  Eventually, feeling pressured by my family and the sense of shame that hung over me like poisonous gas, I stopped opening them and gathered them together, cut each one in two and sent them all back in a jiffy bag.

Unsurprisingly, I never heard from him again.

And even though I felt a horrible curl of guilt at what I had done, it was nothing to the guilt I felt at being with him.

And so I didn’t even flinch when Jenny found the letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Goldman in her lover’s glovebox. It seems so un-shocking now as to be almost banal.  So what?  Where’s the dilemma? Where are the footballers and the drug taking and the topless pictures?  I was more shocked by the fact that Jenny’s parents thought marriage was a career option than that he had a wife. 1964 seems like a quaint period piece, as does 1973 in my story.  Did people really watch those boxy little televisions?  Were there really only three channels?  Did people really only have one telephone?  And write letters, actual letters?  And was it really such a big deal that you might be seduced while still at school by someone who would turn out to be a married man with a baby and a home?

But, yes it was.

At the time.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Went to see Surrogate on Saturday as everything else was either vampires or zombies and I have enough of those in my personal life.  Load of tosh, naturally, and disappointingly, Bruce Willis, for once, kept his shirt on.  Though, on second thoughts, maybe that's not such a bad thing...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Flat shoes that make you feel very, very small

I walked to work from Holland Park this morning as part of my new 'don't sit on the bus and fret uselessly about your mistakes' regime. So instead of sitting on the top deck chewing over them, uselessly, like a toothless crone with a toffee (which come to think of it, would be more of a sucking the misery metaphor) I marched through Notting Hill Gate and into Kensington Gardens and fretted uselessly while walking.

Well it made a change.

Worrying has a different quality when you walk than it does when you're immobilised beside the Pinky and Perky sounds of other people's iPods. You are still visited by regret but somehow it doesn't settle in and take root, or curl round your guts and squeeze in the same way as it does when you're stuck in traffic. Rather it flits around them like a socialite at a party. You replay all your mistakes with the sour benefit of hindsight but your finger is always on the pause button able to skip the sadness forward, frame by frame. If only there was a rewind and you could get a different outcome, or better still a delete.

I tried to concentrate on the early morning joggers instead of cringing over recent trailers for my series of unfortunate events, but with limited success. They all look a darn sight more miserable than me. What happened to the supposed endorphins? And it's so ungainly... You have the arm slappers who look like they have St Vitus Dance; the little mermaids who put their feet down so gingerly it's as though every step is agony; the trudgers who seem to be running through quicksand; the trotters, the panters, the pack carriers, those swaddled in jumpers and sleeveless puffa jacket so that they can hardly move at all and, unfortunately, the semi-naked who move a little bit too much, too visibly. There are also an awful lot of women who haven't heard of sports' bras and whose bosoms bounce around like toddlers on a sugar rush. I can see this is added value to the health giving properties of exercise from the men's point of view given that one of the stumblers actually stopped and watched a red faced, lumpen girl skip while her female personal trainer, flat-chested and clingfilmed into thermal spandex, stood by with that blank-eyed look that women get when when they're watching their toddlers bounce around on a sugar rush. Or was that just my particular brand of mothering?

I just wanted to run (yes actually - me - run) up to the poor woman and scream 'Strap Them Down'. They'll be at your knees by the time you're thirty. But I didn't. I just walked briskly and sedately past the poor, flushed pudding with her boobs wobbling crazily and cross-eyed around on her chest as the sun came up like a big blob of Fanta on the misty horizon, and went back to my reverie.

Then a woman came towards me wearing red ear muffs and grinned at me conspiratorily. I wondered why. Do I look like I have kindship with the ear-muff wearing sorority? And then I realised it was because she was knee deep in the confetti of leaves, childishly kicking them around her heels as she ploughed through the piles. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Well it certainly seemed to have cheered her up, so I thought I'd give it a try myself. In I went in the ballet slippers. The best thing that came out of the recently curtailed relationship with the short, nay Lilliputian, man (our so called mini-break was aptly named - after three days together we had bored each other into catatonia. And I don't mean the defunct band.) was that I now have a whole wardrobe of flat footwear that is actually comfortable. So things to be happy about No 1 - now that we've faced the lack of music I can - hurrah, finally wear heels again. He used to say he quite fancied the whole Dudley Moore thing, but he was so dainty I feared I would look like I was taking my son out for tea on a school exeat.

Crunch, crunch, crunch (but me this time).

Actually, I didn't feel cheery I just felt silly. Sheepishly, I stopped crunching and came out onto the path again, with little flecks of leaves clinging to my tights so that it looked as though I had some sort of seasonal psoraisis. A man nearby was leaning on the signposted map of the park with his head in his arms in a gesture of despair. 'Oh come on laddie, it's not that bad,' I thought, wondering if I should go and see if he was okay. And then I realised. He was only stretching.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Carnal Knowledge

So, as I said. I feel old. Especially at the pub quiz where we know such things as all the words to 'Don't You Love Me Baby?' by the Human League but not anything that happened after 1985 so that the young team of recently qualified teachers are snapping at our heels on all questions of popular 'culture'. It's quite pleasing, then, when a couple of boys who've been rock climbing at the Sport's Centre at the end of the road drop in and are absolutely pants.

'You guys are geniuses,' gushes one of them who looks to be about twelve and resembles something between an Ewok and a cute Disney character. The other is wearing one of the dreaded Noel Fielding jumpers (see Buzzed passim). Why? I ask again and again... They are scratchy and ugly. What's wrong with a nice Merino wool job from Uniqulo lads?

They're marking our answer sheets, and indeed, despite the fact that none of us can recite Nirvana lyrics we are doing pretty well tonight and look like being a shoo-in for the warm champagne.

'Seriously, guys, you're amazing.' He slaps my shoulder with the back of his hand for emphasis as he passes back our scores. Not the ingratiating gesture you might imagine.

He's also Australian and talks in initialisms. FFS.

'How old are you?' He asks later as we are sharing out the warm fizz (believe me a little goes a long, long way - Jesus could have fed the multitude with this stuff).


'How old are you? Seriously, tell me. '

'None of your f'ing business.' I snap, hotly. I can initalise quite well myself, thank you very much.

'Come on, I'm thirty. I bet you don't believe me. You don't, do you? But I am. Honest.'

I shrug. I can't honestly say it's been something that has been troubling me over the last two hours unlike, say, the height of a basketball net (10 ft apparently) or which fingernail grows the fastest (the middle - and I show it to you as you marvel at the intellectual shallows we wallow in on Thursday evenings - it's the suburbs folks. It's that or sleeping with your sister.)

'So tell me, how old are you?'

'Old enough to be your mother.'

'F*** you,' he says, and slaps me again. This time with the flat of his hand and my shoulder recoils.

'Erm, possibly not,' I say. But I'm female and past forty and though I should be old enough to know better, when flattery comes knocking I open the door and let it walk right in. 'I have four kids, one of whom isn't much younger than you.'

'F*** you!' He squeals the last word like a girl. 'You can't possibly have.'

I admit that I do and tell him their ages, wincing as he slaps me again. Is this some sort of weird courtship ritual the young have - swear at you and physically assault you?

'So, tell me, how old are you. It doesn't matter. I'd say you were, what 44?'

I know he's bullshitting me, but what can I do but squirm?

'Yeah, in a previous life. So you can stop the guessathon. Why, do you have a thing about older women?'

'F*** you, no, I just think you're hot. I saw you sitting there and though, she's hot, FFS.'

I am. I'm wearing my PVC shirt and I'm probably having a hot flush.

'No (the little squeal again), seriously, you're f***ing really, really hot. I'm just worried that you're taken.'

'Taken?' What? Like by aliens?

'Yeah, taken. Are you married?'


'So what's that then?'

I brace myself for another slap but this time he reaches for my hand and taps my ring finger on which there is a large blue aquamarine.

'It's a ring.'

'Duh,' He slaps my hand as though I've just reached for the last cake. 'But is it an engagement ring?'


'So are you taken? I'm just really worried that you're taken.'

I laugh at the notion of anyone taking me anywhere other than Sainsbury's.

'What are you doing this weekend?'

I open my mouth to tell him that I'm cooking lunch for sixteen people as it's my son's 21st birthday but for some reason the words stick in my mouth like condensed milk on a spoon and vanity will just not let me spit them out. 'Nothing,' I mumble when my powers of further invention fail me.

'SFA?' He volunteers.


'SFA. Sweet f...

I nod hurriedly. Got it.

'I don't believe that, not for a second. Look at you. You're so f***ing hot, you must have some guy lined up.'

I am, in fact doing SFA for most of the weekend, birthday catering notwithstanding. Worcester is going to the Rugby and has stood me down until next Saturday. Ex husband is keeping a low profile lest he be invited to wash up. Eva is in Amsterdam. Nel is going to Nigeria (excessive, just to avoid a Friday night curry with me, but there you go, or rather there she goes.) I am momentarily dazzled by the enthusiastic flattery of this young, smiling, perfectly toothed chap, despite the fact that he parts his hair above his right ear in a huge tsunami of jet black spikes and has his trousers hanging off his arse like a babygrow.

'Give me your number. I'm also doing SFA this weekend. Come and have dinner with me. I'll take you out. I want to see you again. As soon as possible. ' He smiles and narrows his eyes like a trainee Jack Nicholson. I can't help but laugh at the sheer nerve of him. He's already had a crack at Sally and Karen. I should feel insulted that I was the final assault but I'm quite enjoying the patter. I've been married to men who've been less complimentary.

The quiz is long over. There's a free drink question. The quizmaster looks like Marc Almond and is wearing green polythene boots. He asks what the initals DP mean in porn. Nobody wants to answer. We usually don't have quite this sort of unsavory general knowlege - Abba hits, yes. Flags of the world, certainly. Porn? Absolutely not. But up shoots the chirpy Australian's hand. He gets it right. I told you he was good at initials. It's an expertise I would rather he had kept hidden.

He grabs his bicycle helmet and asks me to go outside with him. I cling to Rick like the aforementioned condensed milk but a darn sight less sweet. I seem to have momentarily stepped into a parallel universe where I am 17 again but this time round boys fancy me.

Rick gives me a lift the three hundred yards up the road to my house. 'That little guy was really chatting me up. I've never heard anything like it. He's got guts, I'll say that for him.'

'What was he saying?' He asks.

I repeat some of the conversation. 'I loved it. I just kept thinking, it's too ruddy late now laddie. I'm too old. Where were you when I was twenty?'

Rick, whose idea of a compliment is 'do you have any Tabasco?' when you've just offered him some of your pot roast, looks thoughtful.

'We'll he probably wasn't even born yet, was he?' He says.

And darn it. He's right.

I'm old. FFS.

glamorous Pedantic women. Lest you think I exaggerate

There is a point to this story but it may take some time to reveal itself...

Spot the Connection:
Commercial Chief of the Pedants and Jim 'Vic Reeves' Moir at book launch.

I couldn't bring myself to talk too much about the Vic Reeves Book Launch as, although it's tremendous fun to go out on an office soiree, frankly it's also a tad depressing stepping out with the all-female cast of Reservoir Dogs full of young blonde glamorous things
dressed in black, when you're bringing up the rear feeling like Steve Buscemi in a frock.

'Like the hat,' says Fran in a voice that hints otherwise when I arrive in my anti-frizz headware - aka a striped Beanie that once belonged to my younger son.

I feel oooooooooold. Sod it, I am old. It doesn't get any easier when you arrive at Paul Smith in Floral Street where the launch is being held and you are surrounded be skinny things in expensive clothes that you can't afford. And yes there are canapes, which just about makes up for it, but when you notice you are the only person eating them it takes the pleasure out of it a little bit. Meanwhile, everyone is scanning the room for slebs. I can't see anybody I recognise but then I don't get out much.

'That man's really staring at you?' says Sachna (slim, glamorous, young and - just for a change - brunette).

'No he isn't.'

'Yes he is. Maybe he thinks he knows you.'

'He doesn't. Believe me, he doesn't.' He's probably just wondering why the hell somebody brought their mother along. I pop another quail's egg into my mouth and decide to brave the rain rather than the Groucho where everyone else seems to be going for the after party, and I join the queue for the cloakroom.

I'm just rescuing my umbrella from a pool of water by the front door when one of the twenty-something twigs on the door informs me that there are goodie bags at the other exit.

Ooooh. How lovely. Pressies. When I was a restaurant critic it was one of the perks of the job - going to restaurant openings and leaving with freebie samples of chocolate and wine. I trot eagerly round to the exit and am given a glossy Paul Smith bag - probably the one and only time in my life I will own one.

I restrain myself from rifling through it in the street and wait until I am a sedate, but dripping, passenger on the tube, trying to look like one of those women who drop into Paul Smith for a clean blouse on the way home from work. There are a couple of catalogues full of expensive clothes and - wow - a cellophane wrapped box of what looks like... be still my beta-blocked heart - perfume. I am flushed with delight of the sort not usually felt for anything non comestible and reach into the bag to take out the very large package with excited fingers.

And then I see:



I mean, not one to look a gift bag in the mouth, and with all due respect and thanks to Paul Smith for the freebie, is it not bad enough to feel like a geriatric Liz McDonald lookalike without being given male cologne?

Was it the beanie hat that gave me away or just the tranny make-up?

I took it quite personally. Until I discovered that everyone got the same stuff and I wasn't singled out as a cross dresser.

Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

for those who need a few pointers

Taking the cloth...


Quarter to eight, Kemble station in the middle of Wiltshire or Gloucestershire, or Somewhereshire conveniently near Worcester's office which, confusingly, is about an hour's drive from Worcester. Confused? Me too. I just get in the car and eventually am dropped off like a hurriedly kissed parcel at this funny little station in a rural backwater where I huddle in the draughty cold until a train arrives that I can afford to ride.

The platform is oily with rain and deserted when I arrive so I huddle in the waiting room which contains two leather benches and an old man with a flat combover that falls over his eyes like a salute. He's wearing a Mustard cord jacket with leather patches and a Rupert the Bear style scarf. His name, I soon discover, is Godfrey. A tall woman with a worn face and aristocratic messy hair strides in like she's just walked off the hockey field in an over 70s match. She sits next to me and picks up a copy of Metro. We all three sit in a shivering silence broken only by the ticking of the clock, as slowly the station fills up with suits.

Then, as though there's been an invisible signal, Hockey Grandma lowers her newspaper and addresses Godfrey as if he had just that second arrived and not been sitting in silence for the last fifteen minutes crossing and uncrossing his legs.

'How are you Godfrey?'

'Well, Araminta, and you?' (Okay, yes I admit it, her name wasn't Araminta, but it should have been. And actually he wasn't called Godfrey either but I don't want to reveal his real name lest he is a retired high court judge and he sues me.)

'I haven't seen you for ages, have I? Mmm, not since, let me see, Richard's seventy fifth birthday party, was it?'

'Actually, no. I didn't go.'

'Rally. You didn't? How peculiah. I'm sure we've met somewhere recently. I know, it was at that concert. You did go to the concert, didn't you.'

'That's right, yes,'

'I thought I'd seen you there in the audience.'

'No, actually, I was playing. On stage.'

'Ah, of course you were. Mmm, now I remembah. You played American Pie. Lovely. It's such an anthem, isn't it.'

'Fraid so. I don't know what people are doing for anthems these days. The young don't have songs like this any more. Have you heard Jules Holland recently?'

'Jules who?'

'Dismal, short fellow, plays the piano late at night on the television...'

'Ah no. I rarely watch television.'

'Well you're not missing anything. Frightful. Simply frightful.'

The two fall silent.

'Playing much tennis these days?' She asks, eventually, when it's clear the subject of music has been exhausted. She speaks like Hyacinth Bucket with a slight tremble to her voice on the high notes, of which there are many trilling through her sentences.

'Not as often as I would like. I'm on the reserve list so they call on me when someone else drops out.'

'Well Arthur isn't playing any more, not since he had his triple bypass. You should get a regular game now.'

'I'm not always free. I have my book club every other Tuesday.'

'Oh Book Clubs!' She shudders like a horse being confronted by a particularly high jump. 'I don't want to discuss books in any sort of formal arrangement. Can't think of anything more horrid. I already read quite enough without being forced to plod through some awful book that someone else has chosen.'

'Quite right. We've read some stinkers, absolute stinkers. Can't think how any of them get published. The last book was frightful rubbish.' I strain my ears to hear the name of the offensive book but he doesn't mention it.

'Have you seen Arthur and Trudy lately?'

'No, I can't bear their hideous Pope dinners. Some of those medieval Popes were frightful so we do rather sweep those events under the table and give the Pope dinners a miss. Especially with Charles being Catholic. He does rather dread the whole thing.'

I'm transfixed at the idea of a Pope dinner. What on earth do they do? Dress up in purple? My mind flits helplessly back to Bergamo where I stood longingly in front of a shop window filled with religious paraphenalia with white Papal vestments as a centrepiece (Roman Catholics should probably stop reading this blog about now) toying with the idea of getting Worcester to buy them. He merely smiled nervously and backed away from the window. Darn it. But Pope dinners. Amazing. Maybe living in the country wouldn't be such a bad thing after all, I think.

'How's Caroline by the way?' Godfrey has changed the subject before I get too carried away.

'A bit creaky, but not bad considering she's thirteen now.'

Thirteen? I'm perplexed until I realise that Godfrey has just asked after Araminta's dog. My perspective on country life takes a swift nose dive.

'I rarely come to the station this early but it's terribly social isn't it?' Says Godfrey.

'Mm, yes, terribly social.'

'Indeed. People say it's terribly social but I hadn't realised just how social.'

'I usually take the earlier train, but that's not quite as social.'


'Well we really must see each other some time,' Godfrey harumphs.

'Quite, well yes, no doubt we will. We'll run into one another somewhere.' Araminta is not going to commit herself.

'Give my regards to Charles,' says Godfrey then takes his leave, striding off to the far end of the platform to await the delayed 9.18 to Paddington where he has announced he likes to sit in the quiet carriage. So he can work.

I watch him leave rather sadly, wondering if I could follow him and get more details about the dress code for the Pope dinners.


You see, I have just the book for it.

published by McSweeney's this month and distributed by Pedantic Press
Get your copy today and let me know when the dinner is...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


After the show, Phill gave me some 'singer's tea' which he says is good for the voice, something he will need to safeguard as he's about to star as Edna in Hairspray next week, complete with heels and prosthetic breasts.

It was rather nice. I gave him a few bars of Barbara Dixon's another suitcase, another hall, as I sipped it.

'Yeah, Marion. I said it was singer's tea. I didn't say it could make you able to sing.'

Point taken.

The Buzz

At Buzzcocks, the only person in the audience balancing a book on my knee as I wait for the show to start taping.

Phill walks on to the stage with Noel Fielding to whoops and cheers and the lights go down, as does Spooner, into my handbag with my mobile phone. Noel is wearing an Icelandic jumper in a colour of terrier grey which must, surely, be as uncomfortable as it looks. I do know this to be true as I once, not only owned a sweater of a similar type, but actually knitted one as a stop smoking remedy a couple of decades ago.

It kept my hands busy.

The one I knitted, however, was a vivid blue with red and white patterns draped around the yolk and it was given as a present to my then fiance. Poor soul. You would think he would have seen the writing in the yarn. It was almost Grimmlike - you know - as in one of those fairy stories where the heroine has to weave a cloak out of nettles and throw it over the neck of the wild swan to turn him back into a prince, except that in my case it entrapped the previously footloose and fancy free prince and turned him into a domesticated old turkey for twenty five years until he managed to completely unravel himself. There's a picture of him gamely wearing it, looking terrified, overstuffed and startled, exactly like Colin Firth in the Bridget Jones Christmas Party scene, except shorter. Worcester better watch out if I ever appear brandishing a pair of knitting needles.

Anyway, I digress. Roll the camera back to Noel Fielding hunched on stage like a mangy dog with eyeliner surely sweating under the studio lights. I can't understand why a) he's wearing it, and b) he isn't scratching himself with a silver high-heeled hind leg. The guests appear. I'm so not a hip and happening person (a fact to which, had you not already guessed, the previous sentence would have alerted you) and I so I don't really know any of them. One is a blonde with hair falling over her face and a lot of black eye make up, and another is a comedian I haven't heard of. The third is a member of Spinal Tap and also does the voices for, amongst others, Mr Burns in The Simpsons so I have, at least, heard him, if not of him. He is also possibly the closest person to my age in the whole theatre (well Phill is 47 so not quite the only person). The final guest is Jameliah, and I had to Google the spelling of her name so it's safe to say I have only the vaguest idea of her importance in the musical universe. Claudia Winkleman, possibly my least favourite television presenter, is centre stage in the chair. I haven't liked her ever since I appeared on a dismal regional show she presented with George Fake Tan Hamilton III. It was, readers ( or let's be realistic here, reader), a high moment in television broadcasting history for all three of us. Claudia is also sporting the panda-eyed, my husband beats me, look. There seems to be something of a theme going on here.

The show kicks off. Or at least stumbles off at random tangents that have absolutely nothing to do with the questions. Jamelia tells us about filming with Vinnie Jones in Hungary. The chap from Spinal Tap speaks in the voice of Mr Burns but otherwise struggles to be either funny or witty or even, apparently, alive. Little Boots, the floppy haired, black-eyed Blonde hides her personality under her fringe and says nothing. Jamelia is gorgeous, adorably quirky and irreverent, Phill is as Phillish witty as ever and Noel looks like someone who should be sitting on the street holding an upside down sign asking for spare change. The biggest surprise, however, is Claudia who, though I hate to say it, is actually quite likeable. And then finally, it's the line-up.

This is the part of the show I don't get. Why on earth would you want to trot yourself onto a stage holding a number to remind a world that has forgotten you, just how forgettable you truly are, while three smart-arse gits on a panel game sit and make personal jibes about your appearance? Is any 'new single' really worth the humiliation? Apparently so, since they churn it out week after week.

This time it's a rapper. Or something with black guys in hoodies. What do I know, I'm fifty ffs? They show the video and on come the mugs. I can immediately tell it's No 3 because he looks nervous and sullen while the others just look sullen. Claudia asks Noel's team to chose and Jamelia excuses herself. 'I'm going to have to sit this one out,' she says. 'As I actually know him.'

'Have you worked with him before?' Asks Claudia, cheerily.

'No, he tried to sell a story on me to the papers.' Says Jamelia.

Gulp. Audience-wide sharp intake of breath.

'Yeah, but I mean, I like to think there's some justice in the world because all these years later and look, I'm on the panel and he's in the line up.' She snaps her fingers.

Ah. Can't you just see the panic in the producer's eyes at this point as they realise that of all the people with new singles in all the world they have inadvertently chosen the one wannabe artist who has tried to sell a story to the press about one of the panelists.

Televisual gold.

We're publishing Sod's Law by Sam Leith at Pedantic next month. This would be one for the book.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Post Mortem

On the way back from the airport we're driving up the M5 congratulating ourselves on how well our weekend went.

'...especially considering that for all you know, you could have gone away with an axe murderer.' Worcester says, laughing.

'So, is this the way you drive home from work every day?' I ask.

'Yes, and that's where they found that body of the woman in the plastic bag,' he adds as we swish past a police crime scene where they have set up a couple of porta-cabins surrounded by yellow tape.

There is a very, very long pause.

Full disclosure

This is modern life:

More than twenty-five years later than almost everyone else I know, I have finally entered the world of the Bridget Jones mini-break, except that I am playing the part of Bridget after Mr Darcy has left to pursue other interests from his small bachelor flat in Shepherd's bush.

So this is how I come to find myself sipping coffee on the terrace of a lakeside cafe in Bellagio opposite a man who is not my husband with the prefix ex, but who is instead, I suddenly realise, almost a total stranger of whom I do indeed have extensive biblical knowledge, but otherwise know almost nothing about. We've been seeing each other for almost six months but since we live a hundred miles apart and only manage to meet up every few weeks, we have not, until now, spent longer than 48 hours in each other's company.

As the waiter takes our order we are now on hour 36 and will soon enter uncharted territory.

What will we say to each other? Will there be awkward silences? Chance, I see him thinking, would be a fine thing, as I babble on like I'm being paid by the word. I've been on my best behaviour for months, and even that hasn't softened him much. How will I keep it up? He's a self-confessed control freak and has already spoken ominously about itineraries and timetables. Is his idea of fun to recite great chunks of the guide book to me while we are standing in a public square? (Indeed it is, but since I don't have my glasses on and can't see the print - while not exactly John Donne in the bath - this is nevertheless an endearing quality.) Should I hide my aversion to heights (possibly before we've climbed a bell tower with no handrail that teeters on top of a medieval hillside town)? What happens if we quarrel? What if he's a member of the National Front. Or the Countryside Alliance?

'So where do you stand on hunting?' he suddenly asks as I stir sugar into my coffee in a vain attempt to sweeten my tongue.

Someone should really write a user's handbook for previously owned men so that subsequent partners know how to negotiate the time when you are vertical and ambulatory instead of merely amatory, and what topics can be safely discussed when polite conversation is required. It would also help to know such things as a love of blood sports, well in advance.

He's wearing a quilted jacket, stout shoes and a scarf wound round his neck like he's been styled for the Boden Catalogue. Everything I'm wearing is stout. I'm in jeans and a long, large, knitted coat into which I've tucked a pashmina that I've draped over my head hijab style. I keep catching sight of myself in shop windows and thinking I look like a Muslim matron with an aversion to the cold. And it is cold. There's an icy wind blowing off Lake Como, despite the cloudless blue sky that dutifully accessorises the Mediterranean scenery, and white caps tip the jagged waves.

We smile at each other, huddled into our respective sensible coats and he reaches across the table and takes my hand. 'I want to give you my sister's telephone number,' he says, confidingly, and the smile that has been beaming from my face all weekend, widens. This is surely one of the milestones of grown-up courtship. Forget meeting the parents (who are in any case often dead) or the children (you have to meet them because otherwise you don't get to set foot in the bedroom since they are usually blocking the entrance playing Grand Theft Auto) - it's the being invited to befriend the siblings that bestows on one the public seal of approval. I've already met and immediately liked the sister, so much so that I made an early request that I should be allowed to keep her if we break up, so I'm delighted to be invited to take her telephone number. Maybe he's going to suggest I get in touch with her and meet her for coffee one of these days.

'Yes, you really ought to have it,' He adds.

I get out my mobile. 'Why?' I ask cheerfully, seeing family get-togethers and Sunday lunches and tennis parties stretching off into the future (I can't play tennis, but nevertheless)...

'Just in case something happens to me.' He answers. 'I woke in the night and it occurred to me that if I had a heart attack and pegged it you wouldn't know who to contact.'

Ah, romantic, middle-aged love, or what? And so we sit there with our respective phones keying in the numbers of people to contact in case of an emergency. I give him my ex husband's cell phone.

'There's so much we don't know about each other,' he says, by way of explanation.

'That's true, ' I agree and look up at the yellow stucco of the hotel on the shores of the lake next to the cafe where we are seated, whose balconies overhang the the terrace. 'For instance, do you see the Hotel Metropole, just over there?' I ask.

'Yes?' His eyes turn dutifully upwards following mine to the the third balcony on the second floor.

'That's where I stayed for my honeymoon.'